I read a blog post today by the debut novelist Mary Miller: Publishing a novel isn’t going to change your life
Mary says: “I don’t mean to say that publishing a novel isn’t awesome. It is. In so many ways. But it disheartens me to see my friends talk as though it will solve all of their problems and alter their lives completely when I know it won’t.”
I absolutely agree with the point that for most authors – and in this I include myself – the publication of a debut novel doesn’t lead to a life of Riley. But most writers I know don’t expect this – we do understand the publishing industry to some extent and we also network with other authors on twitter who often share their experiences both amazing and frustrating. You can hope and dream, but you have to keep your expectations realistic.
I wonder if there is a difference in expectations if you are an MFA undergraduate or graduate and are expecting writing fiction to be your career from day one. That’s a big investment in time and money and so perhaps in that situation you do expect a payback?
Or perhaps it’s that I’m older, and I’ve already learned that getting that job, that promotion, that pay rise, that man, that flat…none of those things actually change your life in any meaningful way.
I recently wrote about a few things I’ve learned after a year of being published, but having read Mary’s post I wanted tell you about three ways in which publishing a novel has changed my life:
#1. (And most importantly) I have discovered that being a writer is what I really want.
You never really know if what you want is really what you want until you get it. Only then do you see if the reality meets your expectations, and even if it doesn’t, is it a reality you want? For me it is, and this has changed my life because holding on to this opportunity, digging in deeper, raising my game – all these things now are based in a better understanding of where disappointments may lie, and the risks I am taking. I am learning as I go, but at least now I see the path clearly.
#2. (The consequences of #1) I’ve discovered where I have even more to give…and where my limitations are.
Sometimes life throws things at us that adds more to our plates and tests our ability to manage it all, our stamina and our good humour. Sometimes we throw this stuff at ourselves, and I think that’s exactly what you are doing if you are trying to get a novel published these days, be it your debut or the second or the nth. You are setting yourself up for rejection, underachievement and disappointment that you could easily do without. And it doesn’t stop after the first novel is published. Writers are continually wracked by doubt and insecurity. And once you have a book out there the pressure on you increases. You have to deliver on the next book whilst promoting the first one and carrying on with your ‘normal’ life without dropping plates. But we do this because we choose to, because we have hope, we are driving ourselves to do something that is not easy and that smacks of character. If you don’t want to write then don’t. (I’m reminded of this post, from writer Kirsty Logan “Writing is not hard.”)
#3. My daughters think I’m awesome.
Yes OK they are too young to know better, and yes I have always had the magic card of ‘Mummy – the best person in the world’, but this is different. They tell everyone they meet about my book, and how I’m a writer. They’re excited by it and proud of me. They see me working hard and they see the exciting things happen. I feel as though I am role modelling something that will serve them well later in life.
If you’re looking for your first published novel to change your life financially, you probably need to revise your expectations. But don’t think it won’t change your life. One way or another it probably will.
Postscript June 2015: I came across this (beautifully written) article today, on a similar topic.